When it comes to legislation to address gun violence, the Democratic-led U.S. House has been quite busy. Last year, the chamber approved two bills, both of which related to expanding background checks on firearm purchases, and last week, House Democrats went further, passing both the Protecting Our Kids Act package and a red-flag measure called the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act.
But as is often the case, much of the political world shrugged in response, knowing that House-backed legislation can’t overcome Republican filibusters in the Senate. Instead, much of the focus has been on bipartisan negotiations in the upper chamber, which, as of yesterday afternoon, appear to have been successful. NBC News reported:
Key senators announced a framework agreement on new gun legislation Sunday, marking a breakthrough on a collection of measures to combat gun violence, including “red flag” laws and enhanced background checks on gun buyers.... Unlike the series of gun bills authored by Democrats that passed the House last week, the Senate deal has a better chance of becoming law because it has support from key Republicans, who wield effective veto power over gun legislation in the Senate because of the 60-vote filibuster rule.
I heard from some Democratic sources on Capitol Hill yesterday, and they all said roughly the same thing: When assessing this compromise deal, they wanted more, but expected less.
According to a summary released by Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the lead negotiators, this new agreement would, among other things:
- provide resources for states to create and implement “red flag” laws,
- make new investments in mental health services and school-safety measures,
- close the “boyfriend loophole,” blocking those convicted of domestic abuse from buying guns,
- bring new clarity to laws regarding licensed gun dealers, as a way to strengthen the existing background-check system,
- expand the background-check system for gun buyers under 21, to include a review of juvenile and mental health records, and
- create new criminal penalties for firearm straw purchasing.
The good news for reform advocates is that the framework exists; it’s better than nothing; it quickly received the White House’s backing; and it appears to have enough support to actually pass.
Indeed, 10 Republican senators — Texas’ John Cornyn, North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, Missouri’s Roy Blunt, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, Maine’s Susan Collins, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Utah’s Mitt Romney, and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey — signed their names to yesterday’s press statement on the compromise package, which is the minimum needed to clear a filibuster.
(Note, four senators in this group are retiring, and five won’t face voters again until 2026. The exception is Romney, whom the right is upset with anyway for defying Donald Trump.)
The bad news is, yesterday’s announcement was the first of several steps, and final passage is by no means assured.
It’s important to emphasize, for example, that yesterday’s announcement unveiled a framework — which, in effect, is a written outline of ideas. Now, policymakers will have to get to work writing actual legislative text, which offers new opportunities for possible breakdowns.
What’s more, the lobbying campaign against the as-yet-unwritten bill hasn’t even started yet, and it’s difficult to say with confidence whether the GOP senators who’ve endorsed the plan will, if you’ll pardon the expression, stick to their guns when many on the right call for the legislation’s defeat.
As for the left, there are all kinds of popular ideas reformers support — universal background checks, the restoration of the assault weapons ban, bans on high-capacity magazines, et al. — that were never seriously considered in the Senate talks due to Republican opposition.
But as of this morning, something exists, it includes sensible provisions, and it stands a decent chance of becoming law. Watch this space.